DADE CITY — The county's community development office on Tuesday rolled out a new interest-free loan program aimed at helping low-income seniors burdened by big tax bills.
The program, which is intended to curb foreclosures from delinquent taxes, is funded by a $300,000 state housing grant. It's aimed at low-income folks 62 and older and homeowners with disabilities who are behind in property taxes or about to fall behind.
"We don't want anybody to have to lose their home," community development manager George Romagnoli said during a two-hour workshop with Pasco commissioners.
The program will provide up to $5,000, and the loan can be deferred for 10 years with no interest or penalties.
Applicants must live in a homesteaded house, condominium or mobile home and meet certain income requirements to qualify. Individuals can't earn more than $19,900 a year. For couples, the cutoff is $22,750.
Romagnoli said it's hard to gauge how many people will benefit, but he estimated the program could help 150 to 200 people a year.
"We're talking about a lot of people and their income has become static and they can't afford the property taxes. They paid off their mortgage and they're on a fixed income and they've fallen behind," he said.
Tax Collector Mike Fasano applauded the effort, simply called the Tax Payment Program, and promised to promote it at his office.
He said he occasionally hears from seniors looking for help and refers them to Romagnoli.
Fasano said he isn't sure how many seniors or disabled individuals lose their homes each year due to tax foreclosures. After a property owner becomes delinquent, a tax certificate is issued and sold to an investor. After three years, the investor can apply for a tax deed and the property can be sold at auction.
Fasano said his office frequently works with seniors, and others, to help them get caught up and offers discounted payment plans. Most seniors have annual tax bills ranging from $700 to $800, he said.
"It's a wonderful program. I'm so pleased," Fasano said of the county program. "Since I've been in Pasco I've taken a couple of calls from seniors who have very low, limited incomes and they just don't have the money to pay their taxes."
In other business, Romagnoli proposed changes to the Pasco Opportunity Program, which purchases, renovates and sells houses to low- to moderate-income families.
Under the changes, a $10,000 down-payment assistance program for government workers — teachers, police and firefighters — would be eliminated and the amount available to low- to moderate-income home buyers would be reduced to $5,000 from $20,000.
Romagnoli said the changes will stretch the office's funding so it can reach more people. County commissioners haven't yet approved the changes, though. They'll take up the issue in March or April.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (772) 869-6236.